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peonies and poetry

liz lamoreux


Years ago, I used to share about poetry on Thursdays. In Hand to Heart, we've started this tradition again and today, as my love affair with the peony deepens, I feel moved to make today about poetry in this space too. They're connected for me, peonies and poetry.

Everything about the peony is waiting to appear in a poem. And Mary Oliver captures this truth so gorgeously in her poem "Peonies." An excerpt:

the flowers bend their bright bodies, 
and tip their fragrance to the air, 
and rise, 
their red stems holding

all that dampness and recklessness 
gladly and lightly, 
and there it is again — 
beauty the brave, the exemplary,

blazing open. 

On Monday after school, Ellie and I went to Trader Joe's and there they were in the flower section, like tightly closed dreams unsure of where to begin. Ellie did not understand why I wanted to buy them. They weren't eagerly reaching for our attention like the roses she ran to when we walked in or the daises bobbing along to the music. No. They were hiding, and I had to walk all the way around the display to find them camouflaged next to the bursting with hints of summer bouquets you can give your mom this Sunday.

I told her, "These are magical flowers. I know they don't look like much right now. But, you're going to love watching them bloom."

We agreed that I'd put a couple in her room and she could keep an eye on them, so she was content to humor me.

And while she was away at school the next day, the magic began to unfold in a little bedroom with purple walls.

That evening, she was getting her pajamas out of the drawer and spotted them. "MAMA! Come quick! I can't even believe this."

Pink petals opening like a skirt twirling in slow motion.

Her face was so full of joy. Of delight. Of "how is this even possible?"

Now, when she gets home from school, she rushes to her room to see if they've opened even more, and she runs back out, grabs us each by the hand with excitement in her voice saying, "Look! Look! They're even bigger!!!" 

This morning as I watch them while the birds sing so loudly around us and the blooms seem to stretch even more before my very eyes, I hold the beauty in one hand and the knowledge that their lives are so brief in the other.

I think that perhaps the reason we're drawn to the peony like the eager bees and ants that nestle inside their blooms is because it is the closest thing we have to a phoenix.

These huge heavy bursting blooms are an access point to wonder, to that unwavering truth that spring comes again even when our hearts try to convince us it won't.

("Peonies" appears in Mary Oliver's collection New and Selected Poems. I couldn't find a copyright free site to link to, but a quick search and you'll find the poem in its entirety.)